Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Krenzel healthy; offense isn't

Buckeyes' unit last in Big Ten

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bucks QB Craig Krenzel.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
COLUMBUS - As the Buckeyes band together to cure their offensive ineptitude, they at least have healthy hands in the huddle.

And elbows. And ankles.

Craig Krenzel returned to Ohio State's first-team offense Tuesday in practice and will start at quarterback for the first time in four weeks when the Buckeyes visit Wisconsin on Oct. 11, after a bye week. Starting center Alex Stepanovich, who missed the last 3 1/2 games because of an ankle sprain, also is practicing this week and will be back for Wisconsin.

With fullback Branden Joe's return last week, OSU will have that trio together for the first time this season - and now has back every offensive starter from the Fiesta Bowl except suspended tailback Maurice Clarett.

That's the primary reason for optimism about a group that ranks last in the Big Ten in total offense with an average of 298.4 yards a game.

"We've had trouble moving the ball," tight end Ben Hartsock said. "When we get guys back that have that experience, hopefully they can bring ... a spark to maybe have a little more consistency."

Coach Jim Tressel said Krenzel, whom doctors held out again last week to rest his hyperextended right elbow, had no ill effects from his 50-plus throws during pregame drills Saturday. Krenzel was not available to the media Tuesday.

"He'll jump right in with the first huddle (Tuesday)," Tressel said. "He'll practice significantly."

Krenzel had his best career performance Sept. 13 against North Carolina State, throwing for 273 yards and four touchdowns.

Yet OSU has struggled with and without Krenzel to establish its offense, particularly a running game that looks anemic without Clarett.

Its top two tailbacks combined for 55 yards on 18 carries against Northwestern and for 3 yards on 17 carries against N.C. State.

Maurice Hall, short on instincts, has appeared to lose confidence. Lydell Ross, who has had inspiring flourishes, might not be durable enough to be a No. 1 tailback.

Though each said he wants to establish himself as the top rusher, thus getting in a rhythm each game with numerous carries, Hall and Ross both average an unimpressive 3.6 yards a carry.

Clarett averaged 5.6 last season with a tackle-breaking dimension his successors lack.

"Maurice Clarett was a dynamic back," Hartsock said. "But we can't dwell on that too much.

"The guys who are in the backfield, we have all the confidence in the world in. We'll do all we can to help them move the ball ... but that doesn't put points on the board."

Tressel was so desperate for something to work Saturday that he used a two-fullback, three-tight end formation on a second-and-goal from the 2. He later experimented with Ira Guilford, a freshman who thought he was going to be a defensive back when he arrived at preseason camp.

"For a few weeks there, we felt as if we would be a better team if Lydell and Maurice shared the load," Tressel said. "It's kind of nice to see Ira might be added to that group. We'll just have to see how it emerges ... who's performing."

There are calls to open up the passing game, but it's unlikely Tressel would change his conservative style.

"There are a lot of things we've practiced, things that I think guys would feel comfortable with, that haven't come out yet," Hartsock said. "(Tressel) just likes to keep them on the shelf for one reason or another."

SCOTT SHOULD RETURN: Tressel said Darrion Scott, a senior defensive tackle, should be back in the starting lineup for Wisconsin. Scott missed the Northwestern game because of a sprained ankle.



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